INTERVIEW WITH ANGELA MARCELLIN
Angela Marcellin was given a list of areas we wanted to cover and asked to speak about them. The topics were:
- personal details (name, place of birth, family background);
- how she first got interested in music in general and calypso in particular;
- her experiences of attending the London calypso tent including any artists she particularly remembered or admired;
- her thoughts on the role of calypso / the calypsonian; and
- whether she had found the London tent a welcoming environment for women.
David Gleave was the interviewer.
ANGELA: My name is Angela Marcellin. I was born in Fulham to Guyanese parentage, both my parents were Guyanese. I guess that’s where my love of calypso and carnival started.
My first recollection would be at the age of round about 8 to 9 when my mum got both myself and my sister, I’m a twin, into playing Mas at Carnival, Notting Hill Carnival that would be. We would dress up, there would be a kids’ day, we’d be dressed up and I’ve been a Queen a couple of times, in the Mas camps and getting involved with making the costumes and such like. I suppose that was probably the first love and first recollection I have of really being part of that sort of culture and what it was about. I did that for about five, six, probably longer actually, probably about eight or nine years, really playing the carnivals.
Obviously at home as well, the culture was very much ingrained in us in terms of that music, listening to it on the radio, well not the radio, records in those days and really the parties that my mum and dad would throw, really just having a good time and really having a sense of togetherness and everybody being there together as a unit to enjoy themselves, enjoy the food and all that good stuff.
And I suppose then that came and developed into my network of friends who also were of a West Indian background, Trinidad, Grenada, Bajan and those sort of places. What I would find myself doing is going over to Trinidad and also partaking in their carnivals and seeing it on another level and obviously I suppose that was one of my pinnacles of how carnival was really best enjoyed and, that said, I still took part up to a certain age dressing up in the Notting Hill Carnival. I suppose as I got older I then took a step back in terms of just doing the T-shirts and the lower key stuff and still having a real passion for that.
In that time I went to St Lucia on a holiday and that’s where I met my husband who was a musician out there and again the sort of music he was involved in playing was very much the old type and Parang. Parang would be particularly around Christmas time it’s kind of a type of music you would hear and you’d go round to different people’s homes. You’d have something to eat and then from there you’d go to another person’s home and they’d have that sort of music playing in the background. Again, it’s a sense of unity, everybody enjoying themselves.
I suppose then it just developed from there. I met him over there, we got married and came here and that’s how it continued. He got very much involved with a couple of individuals who introduced him into playing because he’s a keyboard player. So Dexter Khan, he is one of the main guys for Cocyea. Cocyea was I guess another, had a big impact in terms of still enjoying the culture. They used to have a lot of functions that they used to have in Kentish Town, they used to have it in Scala and they had it in a number of other places where you’d find yourself going to events where they used to bring over a lot of the artists from Trinidad like Machel Montano and, goodness, the names have gone at the moment but I’ll come back to them.
From there we would, those were the UK based, my husband would, he got involved with Dexter basically was introducing him to the calypso tent and that’s where I suppose I saw another side, live musicians, dance and how that played another big part in terms of the foundation of the calypso and the music over here.
In the calypso tent one of the key things was that it was live music, young people coming over from different parts of the world sometimes and actually performing on the stage. Again, getting a sense of unity where people would come, sit down, enjoy live music. Then sometimes competitions they would be judged on and you’d normally have a winner at the end of it. The main part of it I guess for myself would be that they tried to get a different genre of individuals I suppose, so from old, young, family, very family orientated, to enjoy the music.
THERE WAS THEN A BRIEF PAUSE IN THE INTERVIEW WHILE ANGELA GATHERED HER THOUGHTS
DAVID: Do you want to say a little bit about your time at school?
ANGELA: I went to Peterborough school, which was in Fulham. While I was there, another key influence in terms of our heritage was to bring that into the school, they were very supportive of that. Both my sister and a good friend of ours, we used to live on the same road, her dad, being a Trinidadian, and he used to play pan. He actually started teaching us how to play the pan in their home, in the kitchen. We each had a pan that we would play. There was one occasion when he went into the school and said ‘you know, I’d like to show you what we do’ and on one of the school plays actually would like for my daughter and her friends to actually play at one of the concerts. We had a teacher there, called Mr Camplin. Mr Camplin was very, very much interested in the culture. For that reason he encouraged us to come and play and for the next five years thereafter we would actually then, for every school concert at the end of year, we’d actually be playing on the steel pan. One of the main songs I do remember us playing was ‘Yellowbird up high on banana tree’. It was really cool. A key time for it as well.
DAVID: When did you start going to the tent itself in London?
ANGELA: It would have been round about 2003, was one of my first recollections of that. We went probably year after year, that was in the Yaa Centre. We went a few years, probably about four, five years and then I had a little bit of a break. The then next time I did go back it was in Notting Hill at the Tabernacle. That’s the next time I remember going back and it was a new shape, new genre but the same sort of essence in terms of having the new individuals who wanted to sing calypso but couldn’t and different types of calypso so you had groovy and you’d have calypso, the older type calypso, but they’d try to incorporate the newer dance and that made it more interesting to encourage again, as much as they could do, the younger generation.
DAVID: What about any memories of stand-out people that you saw performing, people that really stuck in your mind or made a big impression?
ANGELA: One person was back in the days at the Yaa and that would have been Olatunji. He was very very new and he lives in Trinidad and he was new on the scene he must have been around about 13, 14? He was one of these new kids on the block, that they brought over, wanted to give him a kind of a platform for his experience of international culture and that exposure. He did definitely stand out from the crowd on that day. Then, subsequently, made a number of, in the soca fraternity shall we say, he’s well known, he’s one of the main ones and he’s done very well.
DAVID: In terms of, not necessarily in the tent, but more generally, musicians or music that you admire or particularly like?
ANGELA: So many. The newer stuff that I mentioned already, Machel Montano, you’ve also got Fay-Ann Lyons, you’ve also got Patrice Roberts, they’re the ones, you’ve also got Destra, they’re very high tempo and generally stuff that I enjoy listening to. Then you’ve got the older type stuff…
DAVID: Have you got any thoughts about the role of the calypsonian or of calypso in general?
ANGELA: I suppose for me the first thing is that they have been quite instrumental in the story telling. Their music is always based around real stories, history, and I think if we take that to another level that is something that’s key to the foundation of us being able to really enjoy what the history is about, where we are now and what we can do to make it even more powerful moving forward. If you look at the real calypsonians, they have played a really fundamental part in creating the environment, especially in the West Indies,and laying the foundations for the new era of soca and that being accepted in the world that we live in now. That’s how I see it.
DAVID: I know I’m not supposed to speak, but it’s kind of an oral history isn’t it? For instance, I know that Alexander did one about Grenfell Tower for instance, so it’s up to the minute oral history.
DAVID: Anyway, the other thing I was going to ask you was how you think women are perceived in this environment, is it a welcoming environment for women or can it be a bit hostile? Is it very macho, male dominated, how do you find it?
ANGELA: My experience is that it’s been very much welcoming, even from way back. It’s probably one of the environments where I haven’t seen that type. I won’t say it hasn’t gone on because I don’t know enough to really comment specifically about that. From what I’ve experienced it’s definitely been embracing of both male and female and that’s one of the key things when you’ve gone out to what we call soca sets, it’s all embracing. Everybody out there having a good time, a bit alcohol usually goes down well but it’s about everybody enjoying music they’re listening to and, as I said, that’s got a good mix of both male and female singing or their music being played as well.
DAVID: I think we’ve covered the things we wanted to talk about so thank you very much for your time. If you think of anything else you want to add later just let me know but I think we’ve covered the stuff we wanted to cover. Thank you.
ANGELA: Thank you.